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First Encounters With Art – Caren Hackman Interviews Glenn Tomlinson, Lyda Barrera and Christina Barrera-Part One

To ensure continuity within The Arts, we need to teach and model each generation. The Rickie Report invited Caren Hackman to investigate how to best introduce young people to art experiences and at what age.  This is the first section of a two part article. For this article, Caren consulted with three experts. We are grateful to Glenn Tomlinson, Lyda Barrera and Christina Barrera for taking the time to share their experiences with our readers.  Caren Hackman is a fine artist, graphic designer and author of “Graphic Design Exposed”.  We hope you will share these articles with friends, family and neighbors.  Let’s Keep The Arts Alive!



First Encounters With Art

Part I



Glenn Tomlinson has served as the William Randolph Hearst Curator of Education at the Norton Museum of Art since January, 2001.  (   Prior to that time he worked in museum education at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He lives in Jupiter with his family. The Q and A with Glenn will appear in The Rickie Report tomorrow.

Lyda Barrera has taught elementary school art in the Palm Beach County School District for 25 years. She and her daughter, Christina Barrera, also work privately with students to prepare them for auditions at Bak Middle School of the Arts ( and Dreyfoos School of the Arts (

Christina Barrera, a professional artist, is an Undergraduate Admissions Counselor at the School of Visual Arts in New York City ( She spent two years working as a Museum Educator at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland (



Barrera's Bird Project

Lyda Barrera’s Bird Project


CH:  How do you begin a first art encounter with your kindergarten students?

LB:  Shapes.  I start by holding their hands through basic shapes to make a bird. I give them a structured lesson, with steps, so that they can begin to see how you can draw a real bird with simple shapes. I show them photographs of birds and also samples of drawn birds. They can choose whatever colors they want for their projects. The lesson takes up about four classes and they get introduced to paint when they create a background, but not color mixing yet.

CB: There was another lesson I remember we did in the first grade, teaching vertical and horizontal lines, primary colors, and shapes. We used our fingers to measure equal spaces and learned the difference between horizontal and vertical lines to draw straight lines in a grid. Then we used stamps of different shapes that we stamped in a pattern with primary colors. It taught us about line, color, and patterns all at once.


CH: How long are the art classes at school? Is the length of time appropriate?

LB: All the classes are 40 minutes long. 40 minutes is enough for kindergarten and first grade, but later an hour would be better, or even longer would be ideal.


CH: Christina, with what age children did you work at the Walters?

CB: In the museum, we had different programs ranging from infants to adults. We had programs for 1-12 months, 12-24 months, 2-4 years, 4-6 years, 6-8 years, 9-13 years, teens, and adults. They start in the galleries and then go downstairs for some kind of activity, usually an art project, although for the babies it’s just free play, and the adults usually don’t go into the studio.


CH: How young are the children who visit the Walters when they begin to create artwork based on observations from the exhibits?

CB: The youngest we ever had in the Art Babies program was a four month old! They were typically closer to six months to a year at the youngest. They’re not making art yet, just looking, touching, and interacting with their caretakers.

The Art Tots toddler program, for two to three year olds, is the first program where, after their gallery visit and gallery activities, they make artwork related to what they saw in the museum. Each session has a theme such as animals, story telling, celebrations, food, and many others. During each gallery visit we viewed three works of art that pertained to main idea or theme. The art project that followed was based on the theme so that they could connect what they saw in the galleries and their own experiences to create a work of art just like the artists in the museum.

The primary goal was to make the art project something that had easily definable steps and was as simple as possible.  We want them to put most of their energy toward personalizing their work of art and being creative, as opposed to spending all their time trying to build it the right way or follow a series of complicated steps. Often we tried to have the basis of the project be so simple that we didn’t make a sample, so they didn’t have anything to copy. That meant they were free to make it in whatever way occurred to them.




Lyda Barrera's Student with Artwork

Lyda Barrera’s Student with Award winning Artwork


CH: You’ve told me that most children draw freely without instruction before they begin taking classes and that you ask them to draw from observation.

LB: Drawing from observation engages the brain in a different way than free expressive art, which is also important but is not engaging their brains the same way.

CB: It’s important to make sure that young kids be told that there is no wrong way to make art! Later, I think it’s important for students to gain skills and challenge their brains to learn to analyze what they’re seeing and draw from observation, but it’s also so important to tell kids that there’s no wrong way to make art — it can’t be “right or wrong.” They should be free to make whatever they want; however they want. This freedom is especially important for a child who likes to make art but might not be that dedicated or skilled. It helps prevent them from getting discouraged because a project doesn’t look “right” or they’re “not good”.  Seeing and making art, developing motor skills and creativity are all important parts of development and can enrich someone’s life forever if their creativity isn’t invalidated early on.

LB: A lot of teaching young children is teaching in a group so that they see what the others are doing and are learning from each other. Also it helps motivate them because the interested students motivate each other to work harder and improve. Students who are talented but haven’t had much of a challenge can have a hard time adjusting to observational drawing with higher standards because it takes more work and practice than free drawing.


CH: I’ve watched you teach students. One of things that I admire the most is how well you explain each project’s techniques and objectives.

LB: I have been teaching 25 years.  I learned early on that it is important to be totally precise in your directions. Students can behave like a swarm of bees and they all follow wherever you go. You have to have the experience to learn how to instruct in a very specific, clear way so as not to mislead. The more times you teach a project, the better you get at explaining it.


The Rickie Report shares Part II tomorrow.


Caren Hackman is a graphic designer and fine artist living in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. and author of a book about Graphic Design and Good Business practice: Be sure to check out Caren’s wonderful artwork – Caren is a talented artist in her own right! She is a founding member of the Artists of Palm Beach County.



For coverage of your events, to place an advertisement, or speak to Rickie about appearing in The Rickie Report, contact:

Rickie Leiter, Publisher

The Rickie Report

P.O.Box 33423

Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33420


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